Day 225

Who You Need to Know

Wisdom Psalm 95:1-11
New Testament 1 Corinthians 7:36-8:13
Old Testament Ecclesiastes 7:1-9:12

Introduction

We lived in Oxford for three years. I was training for ordination in the Church of England and studying for a degree in Theology at Oxford University. One of the things we noticed while we were there was that, compared to London, Oxford seemed to be relatively non-materialistic. People, on the whole, were not impressed by wealth. Success was measured differently.

The people in Oxford tended to be more impressed by brains than by money or beauty. Success was measured in starred firsts, distinctions, PhDs, professorships and published works. It made me wonder whether intelligence and ‘knowledge’ could be as much a false god as money and wealth.

Knowledge is, on the whole, good. The facts are your friends. Education is good – reading, learning and discovering are all good activities. However, as Lord Byron wrote, ‘The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.’ We need to see ‘knowledge’ in perspective. Our knowledge is very limited. The more we know, the more we realise how little we know. God is our creator and he alone knows everything.

There are also different types of knowledge, and they are not all equally valuable. In French, there are two different words for ‘to know’. One (savoir) means to know a fact, the other (connaître) means to know a person. God is more interested in us knowing people than facts. The most important knowledge of all is knowing God and being known by him. Even this is not the end though. It is never enough simply to have knowledge – you must also have love.

Wisdom

Psalm 95:1-11

Psalm 95

1 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
  let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
  and extol him with music and song.

3 For the Lord is the great God,
  the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
  and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
  and his hands formed the dry land.

6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
  let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
7 for he is our God
  and we are the people of his pasture,
  the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
8 “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
  as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested me;
  they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
  I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
  and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
  ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

Commentary

The most important knowledge is knowledge of God

The psalmist begins with a call to worship, praise and thanksgiving (vv.1–2). We worship, not because we necessarily feel like it, nor because things are going well. In fact, sometimes we worship in spite of difficult circumstances and hard times.

Neither do we worship because it necessarily makes us feel good. Although often we feel the need to worship for spiritual refreshment.

Rather we see in this psalm that we worship God because of who he is:

‘For the Lord is the great God,
||the great King above all gods…
Come, let us bow down in worship,
||let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture,
||the flock under his care’ (vv.3,6–7).

The psalmist reminds the people of what they know of God. This is the most important kind of knowledge – knowledge of God.

In the context of worship, God often speaks to us. It is not just that God has spoken in the past. God speaks today. The psalmist says, ‘Today if you hear his voice…’ (v.7b).

In this psalm, we also see another important kind of knowledge. God says that people go astray because they have ‘not known my ways’ (v.10). Knowing and following God’s ways is key to living life as God intended.

Prayer

Lord, I kneel before you today and worship you. Thank you that you know me and I can know you. As I hear your voice today, help me not to harden my heart and go astray. May I know your ways and follow them and enter your rest.

New Testament

1 Corinthians 7:36-8:13

36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.

39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. 40 In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Concerning Food Sacrificed to Idols

8Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Commentary

What matters most is not knowledge but love

Although knowledge is a good thing, it has inherent dangers. It can lead to pride and a ‘know-it-all’ superiority. ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’ (8:1b).

Knowledge is not in itself a bad thing. It’s been said that ‘Knowledge is like underwear – it is useful to have, but not necessary to show it off!’ Instead of trying to impress others with what you know, always try to encourage and build other people up in love.

Knowledge can so often lead to pride and arrogance: ‘Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know’ (v.2). What really matters in life is loving God and living a life of love: ‘But whoever loves God is known by God’ (v.3).

As Eugene Peterson translates, ‘We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know in answer to these kinds of questions – but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognise that God alone knows it all’ (vv.1b–3, MSG).

Paul uses the example of ‘food sacrificed to idols’ (vv.1,4). A person with knowledge knows that it is fine to eat food sacrificed to idols because the idols are nothing: ‘There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’ (v.6).

‘But not everyone knows this’ (v.7a). Some people’s consciences are weak. By eating food sacrificed to idols in front of someone who feels this is wrong, we may lead them astray. What matters is not our superior knowledge, but our love for others: ‘But knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings. Real knowledge isn’t that insensitive’ (v.7b, MSG).

Love recognises that ‘Christ gave up his life for that person... When you hurt your friend, you hurt Christ’ (vv.11–12, MSG). Paul writes, ‘Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall’ (v.13).

Love is more important than knowledge. When God measures a person, he puts the tape round the heart, not the head. It is no good just knowing lots about God; get to know him and let him fill you with love for him and for others. In other words, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that, although the danger of knowledge is that it puffs up, love always builds up. Help me to do everything out of love for you and love for others.

Old Testament

Ecclesiastes 7:1-9:12

Wisdom

7A good name is better than fine perfume,
  and the day of death better than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning
  than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
  the living should take this to heart.
3 Frustration is better than laughter,
  because a sad face is good for the heart.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
  but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
5 It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
  than to listen to the song of fools.
6 Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
  so is the laughter of fools.
This too is meaningless.

7 Extortion turns a wise person into a fool,
  and a bribe corrupts the heart.

8 The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
  and patience is better than pride.
9 Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
  for anger resides in the lap of fools.

10 Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
  For it is not wise to ask such questions.

11 Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing
  and benefits those who see the sun.
12 Wisdom is a shelter
  as money is a shelter,
but the advantage of knowledge is this:
  Wisdom preserves those who have it.

13 Consider what God has done:

Who can straighten
  what he has made crooked?
14 When times are good, be happy;
  but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
  as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
  anything about their future.

15 In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:

the righteous perishing in their righteousness,
  and the wicked living long in their wickedness.
16 Do not be overrighteous,
  neither be overwise—
  why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked,
  and do not be a fool—
  why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one
  and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.

19 Wisdom makes one wise person more powerful
  than ten rulers in a city.

20 Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
  no one who does what is right and never sins.

21 Do not pay attention to every word people say,
  or you may hear your servant cursing you—
22 for you know in your heart
  that many times you yourself have cursed others.

23 All this I tested by wisdom and I said,

“I am determined to be wise” —
  but this was beyond me.
24 Whatever exists is far off and most profound—
  who can discover it?
25 So I turned my mind to understand,
  to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things
and to understand the stupidity of wickedness
  and the madness of folly.

26 I find more bitter than death
  the woman who is a snare,
whose heart is a trap
  and whose hands are chains.
The man who pleases God will escape her,
  but the sinner she will ensnare.

27 “Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered:

“Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—
  28 while I was still searching
  but not finding—
I found one upright man among a thousand,
  but not one upright woman among them all.
29 This only have I found:
  God created mankind upright,
  but they have gone in search of many schemes.”

8Who is like the wise?
  Who knows the explanation of things?
A person’s wisdom brightens their face
  and changes its hard appearance.

Obey the King

2 Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. 3 Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. 4 Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing? ”

5 Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm,
  and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.
6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter,
  though a person may be weighed down by misery.

7 Since no one knows the future,
  who can tell someone else what is to come?
8 As no one has power over the wind to contain it,
  so no one has power over the time of their death.
As no one is discharged in time of war,
  so wickedness will not release those who practice it.

9 All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. 10 Then too, I saw the wicked buried —those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.

11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. 12 Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. 13 Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.

14 There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. 15 So I commend the enjoyment of life , because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

16 When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth —people getting no sleep day or night— 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

A Common Destiny for All

9So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. 2 All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.

As it is with the good,
  so with the sinful;
as it is with those who take oaths,
  so with those who are afraid to take them.

3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. 4 Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

5 For the living know that they will die,
  but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
  and even their name is forgotten.
6 Their love, their hate
  and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
  in anything that happens under the sun.

7 Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. 9 Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

11 I have seen something else under the sun:

The race is not to the swift
  or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
  or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
  but time and chance happen to them all.

12 Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:

As fish are caught in a cruel net,
  or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
  that fall unexpectedly upon them.

Commentary

Seek knowledge but know its limitations

Wisdom and knowledge go hand in hand in the book of Ecclesiastes. Wisdom and knowledge are basically good things:

Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun’ (7:11).

‘Wisdom puts more strength in one wise person than ten strong men give to a city’ (v.19, MSG).

‘There’s nothing better than being wise,
||Knowing how to interpret the meaning of life.
Wisdom puts light in the eyes,
||And gives gentleness to words and manners’ (8:1, MSG).

An example of wisdom is that wise people keep their temper under control: ‘Don’t be quick to fly off the handle. Anger boomerangs’ (7:9, MSG).

But, the writer of Ecclesiastes recognises the limits of wisdom and knowledge. First, however much wisdom and knowledge we have, we cannot really discover anything about the future (v.14). Second, there is a danger in being ‘over-wise’. It is possible to have an unhealthy appetite for knowledge that is divorced from God, and so becomes a form of pride:

‘When I determined to load up on wisdom and examine everything taking place on earth, I realised that if you keep your eyes open day and night without even blinking, you’ll still never figure out the meaning of what God is doing on this earth. Search as hard as you like, you’re not going to make sense of it. No matter how smart you are, you won’t get to the bottom of it’ (vv.16–17, MSG).

However wise, rich and powerful a person may be, ‘no one has power over when death comes’ (v.8). ‘Life leads to death. That’s it’ (9:3, MSG). We never know when our lives will end. ‘People do not know when their hour will come’ (v.12).

God alone knows everything. In comparison to him our wisdom and knowledge is very limited. Ultimately we are ‘in God’s hands’ (9:1). We should enjoy life and make the most of our time here. Seize life!... God takes pleasure in your pleasure!... Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift... Make the most of each one!’ (vv.7,9, MSG).

‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might’ (v.10a). Don’t waste your life, make the most of every moment and opportunity.

Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (John 17:3). This is the most important knowledge you can ever have. It starts now and goes on into eternity. This knowledge puts every other kind of knowledge in the right perspective.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that knowing you is the beginning of wisdom. Help me to make the most of every opportunity in life – to do whatever I do with all my might. And help me to do it all in love.

Pippa adds

Psalm 95:5

‘The sea is his and he made it’

I have a healthy respect (bordering on fear) of the sea and whenever I’m in a boat or swimming in the sea I say this verse to myself again, and again. The sea is his and he made it.

Verse of the Day

1 Corinthians 8:1b

‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Lord Byron, Manfred: A Dramatic Poem, 1816–17.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Bible in One Year

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